In the historic part of Carlton, there is a newcomer, who started making wine here in 1994. A transplant from Kentucky, Ken Wright is a leading proponent of vineyard-designated wines, and has come to be known for sweet, user-friendly Pinot Noirs from nearly a dozen of Oregon's best sites. Among them are Del Rio Vineyard in the Rogue Valley, Ciel du Cheval in Washington's Red Mountain district, and Seven Hills Vineyard in Walla Walla. He also offers a consistently dense, expressive and juice Chardonnay from Washington State's Celilo Vineyard and a Pinot Blanc from the Willamette Valley.
Although wine-growing in Oregon stretches from the California border to Washington, for most wine lovers Oregon means the Willamette Valley, a temperate, ocean-influenced growing area extending from Portland south to Eugene, or roughly a hundred miles. The majority of the state's best producers are grouped around the towns of McMinnville, Carlton, Dundee, and Newberg, as well as near the state capital, Salem.
Oregon's past and future reputation as a world-class growing region rests squarely on Pinot Noir. Hyped in the early 1980s as the New World's answer to red Burgundy, Oregon Pinot Noir has steadily improved since then as local growers have discovered the best sites and done a better job matching clones to microclimates.
Oregon's Pinots typically feature exuberant cherry-berry aromas and flavors; varying degrees of spicy oak; medium body; and reasonable tannin levels. They generally carry moderate alcohol in the 12.5% to 14% range, lower than those of today's typical Pinots from California, although very warm years can bring wines with higher alcohol and more roasted flavors. Rarely austere or tough on release, the best Oregon Pinots gain in complexity with three to five years of bottle aging, and top wines from the most successful vintages can improve in bottle for a decade or more. ""Tender"" might be an apt description of the best Oregon Pinot Noirs.
Oregon Pinot Gris is usually fermented to complete dryness, and few examples see much oak. The top producers make brisk, highly aromatic, light- to medium-bodied wines that emphasize orchard fruits, often with citrus elements as well. These wines are excellent choices with a range of warm-weather fare and go especially well with light, fresh seafood preparations.
Pinot Blanc Facts
Rich and medium bodied, with hints of honey, tropical fruit, and smoke
Poultry, seafood and pork
Pinot Blanc may not receive the same respect given to noble varieties like Chardonnay and Riesling, or even other Alsatian whites like Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer. But at its best, with grapes from low-yielding vines, Pinot Blanc can produce exciting values: creamy, medium bodied wines, with honey-like aromas and flavors.
A relative of both Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc is grown in a number of countries under a variety of names. In Germany, it is Weisseburgunder, while in Italy, it is called Pinot Bianco.
Still, the fact that we are most familiar with the grape as Pinot Blanc is a dead tip-off that the best examples of the grape come from France. In France, Pinot Blanc is most notably grown in Alsace, where it is either bottled on its own, used as a major component in the sparkling wine Cremant D'Alsace, or blended with other varieties in the region's traditional wine, Edelzwicker. We don't see much Edelzwicker, since the export market for this wine is virtually non-existent. But we're happy that we can get a decent amount of single-varietal Pinot Blanc from Alsace; the wine is made in some form by almost every Alsatian winery. These can be rich, sometimes tropical, smoky wines that are low in acidity. Look for offerings from Domaine Marcel Deiss and Domaine Schoffit.
In the U.S., some California vintners are producing Pinot Blanc with the same techniques used to make expensive Chardonnay, including new oak and malolactic fermentation. We're not convinced that this is the best way to showcase the grape, and lean more towards the wines being made in Oregon. Here, vinification techniques more closely follow the model established in Alsace, with fermentation in stainless steel or older oak leading to wines that are rich and smoky. Consider wines from Amity Vineyards and Elk Cove.
Pair Pinot Blanc with poultry, seafood, and pork.